“Safely dead” is all one bestselling author has to offer in the way of solace.
After compiling and closely examining hundreds of scientific studies, researchers have concluded that since the very beginning of civilization, humankind has eliminated 83 percent of all wild mammals on Earth—and half the plants.
Think of it: hardly what you’d consider much in the way of stewardship.
Of course, these figures are based on a definition of “beginning” that far transcends a mere 6,000 or 7,000 years. And this would also call into question the concept of stewardship as well. The general understanding of a steward is someone responsible to manage or look after another’s property. So from this scientific viewpoint, there is probably no idea of “another.”
But even to believers in young-earth creationism, some interesting implications may be lurking in the shadows of this report. It points out that while humanity has wiped out so many wild mammals, it has in the meantime replaced them with domestic animals for eating. From the standpoint of an evolutionist, this may offer at least some comfort—all that loss of animal life compensated for by other animal life to meet the needs of a species that, after all, is merely demonstrating its endurance. Now that’s survival of the fittest! Isn’t that as it should be?
The research, though, looks at some other aspects of the so-called balance of nature. And “balance” is possibly a questionable term as well. In sheer weight, humanity has precious little heft in the overall scheme of things. Of the estimated 550 billion metric tons of carbon on this earth, the combined weight of the 7.6 billion people in the world comprises only 0.01 percent of the total—roughly the same as that of the total population of termites.
The combined weight of pigs and cattle makes up about 60 percent of the entire animal kingdom; wild animals only 4 percent. “Our dietary choices,” says lead researcher Ron Milo, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, “have a vast effect on the habitats of animals, plants, and other organisms.”
But apparently more than mere dietary choices are involved in the future of planet Earth. An interesting response of some animal species to this increasing dominance of humans is for them to switch to a night shift. Researchers are tracing a noticeable change from diurnal to nocturnal behavior in some species.
Olive baboons in Ghana, for example, “become nocturnal not just to avoid people, but to raid crops and prey on livestock,” one researcher reports.And similar night-time evasion of humans is being observed in grizzly bears in Canada, leopards and tigers in Nepal, and antelope in Africa.
This trend doesn’t necessarily offer the hope for ultimate survival of all the species that are involved. “We will probably have a few winners and lots of losers,” says Ana Benítez-López, of Radboud University in the Netherlands.
Carbon Ideologies, a two-volume book by William Vollman, asserts that climate change is bringing about the slow motion inevitable demise of life on Earth. He adds that humanity appears not to have the courage to face this dilemma. With grim, unflinching, fatalistic bluntness, Carbon Ideologiesis addressed, instead, to readers of the future. “My audience of the future must really hate us,” Vollman says. “But I want to ask them: Would you or could you do any better than we did. . . . It’s going to be a very, very ugly society. Hopefully, you and I will be safely dead before things get to be too bad.”
“Safely dead”—what a heartbreaking expression with which to look to the future of humankind! In a sense it is the same as saying that humanity’s future isn’t really a future at all. So somehow “safely dead” is all one bestselling author has to offer in the way of solace. And oddly, a society that can apparently look forward only to becoming “very, very ugly” and itself to becoming extinct wonders why fashion designers and celebrity chefs—in addition to 121 others of us each day in the United States alone—decide in a dark moment of personal hopelessness to end their lives.
A popular song in the late 1960s asked the question “Is That All There Is?” In it the vocalist remembers, in haunting melodic verse, a series of lifetime disappointments, after each of which she sings in refrain, “Is that all there is? / If that’s all there is, my friends / Then let’s keep dancing / Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.” By the last verse, even suicide is considered, but withdrawn from: “I know what you must be saying to yourselves / ‘If that’s the way she feels about it / Why doesn’t she just end it all’ / Oh, no, not me / I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.”
The singer can find no comfort in being “safely dead.” Even death will be as disappointing as life has been, and only her mind-altering escape of choice is the answer.
But there truly is an answer to the question, “Is that all there is?” Early in the times recounted in the Old Testament, God Himself said, “I AM!” (Ex. 3:14). Through virtually every translation or paraphrase of Scripture, it is “I AM.” This is just how simple and how profound the absolute truth of God’s existence is. It is His answer to the disquieting human question, “Is that all there is?”
When God proclaimed this about Himself back there at Mount Horeb on “the far side” (verse 1) of the desolate Midian Desert, it was enough evidence to dispel Moses’ uncertainty. It provided hope enough that he became willing to accept the mantle of human leadership for the liberation of God’s people from centuries of oppression in an alien culture.
But the complete picture of God’s existence—and of His immanence—came fully into focus in the life of Jesus Christ. With unmistakable intent, reaching back in human history to a time even before Moses, He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58, NKJV).This was infinitely more than a mere quotation of a scriptural passage of the time. “Behind the mysterious I AM,” writes Walter R. L. Scragg, “lies the assurance of the living God, who knows and cares about His creation.”
God is there. In fact, God is here—and He cares. Surely this should bring the hope—the assurance—that the disappointment and despair for the future that humanity faces in the here and now is notall there is.
Gary Swanson is a freelance writer and editor. He edits Perspective Digest.
“How Humans Have Killed Off Most Wildlife,” The Week, June 8, 2018.
“Author of the Week: William Vollman,” The Week, June 1, 2018.
Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright Ó1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Walter R. L. Scragg, Such Bright Hopes (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1987), p. 153.